Was this the stylish jet Do Kwon hired to make his escape from Montenegro last week?
The Bombardier Challenger 605 was spotted by DL News parked on the tarmac at Podgorica Airport in Montenegro on Friday morning, one day after Kwon’s six-month run from the authorities came to an end with his arrest by local police.
DL News contacted the Montenegrin authorities to confirm this is the plane in question but officials cited the ongoing investigation and declined to comment.
Yet the fact that Kwon arranged a private jet flight for the seven-hour flight to the crypto-friendly city on the Persian Gulf raises fresh questions about how he was able to move around Europe for so long and remain undetected.
Wanted by South Korean prosecutors in connection with the $60 billion collapse of Terra last May, Kwon was the target of an Interpol red notice. As a result, officials in the 192 member nations of the international police organisation were obliged to detain and hold him.
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Moreover, businesses are expected to shun dealing with wanted fugitives. That means they must carry out adequate due diligence on their clients.
So how did Kwon and his associate, Han Jang-Choon, come so close to escaping to Dubai?
The company that leased the getaway plane to carry Kwon is called Alliance Jet, according to Montenegrin press reports.
A plane with the registration number 9H-AZZA was not due to fly on Friday, according to an internal flight schedule at Podgorica Airport seen by DL News. It is unusual for private jets to sit idly on the tarmac on days when they are not scheduled to fly due to high parking costs, a member of the airport’s staff told DL News.
According to its website, Alliance Jet is a Malta-based company headed by Belgian CEO Hervé Laitat. The company has a four-jet fleet, and two of them match the plane DL News photographed on the tarmac Friday morning.
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The 11-seat Challenger can sleep four and serve luxury meals and boasts “the widest cabin in its category, enhancing personal productivity and performance”, according to the firm’s website.
In a message on the Alliance Jet website, Laitat promises to treat clients with a personal touch. “We do this as if they were our own, committing to transparency in everything we deliver,” he said. “Our clients not only rely on a dedicated point of contact for the organisation of their flights, but the management team is also personally involved the whole way.”
Passengers not flown
In response to questions about leasing the jet to Do Kwon, Alliance Jet CEO Hervé Laitat said: “Please note that Alliance Executive Jets performs all flights in accordance with industry monitoring standards and applicable protocols relating to monitoring of clients and passengers.
“Kindly also further note that the mentioned passengers were not flown on any Alliance Executive Jets.”
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It is not clear who hired the jet, or how it was paid for. Kwon and Han were travelling on forged Costa Rican passports, the Montenegro Interior Ministry said last week. The two South Korean natives have been jailed for 30 days as the Balkan nation’s authorities investigate their case.
The aircraft, which appears to bear the registration number 9H-AZZA, departed from the Montenegrin capital on Sunday afternoon, according to Radar Box, a program that tracks flights.
Its destination was the Greek island of Crete, and its movements were monitored by DL News during the weekend. Operators of private aircraft can request that their flight data is not made publicly available on tracking software.
Kwon and Han were travelling on forged Costa Rican passports, and the two South Korean natives have been jailed for 30 days as the Balkan nation’s authorities investigate their case.
Stanley Bugeja, the president of the Malta Business Aviation Association, would not comment on the specifics of the case. But he explained the rules its members, including Alliance Jet, should follow.
“We require our members to adhere to local regulation, but we don’t get involved in how each company goes about their business,” Bugeja said.
“Once a flight is booked most operators do due diligence on who books the flight and who pays for it — the first and most important thing that is checked is who pays. A passenger list is shared with the authorities of where it’s going to but it is different for each country.”
Alliance Jet opened its Maltese base in March 2021 and added its fourth jet to its fleet — the 9H-AZZA — in September 2022.
National authorities oversee the due diligence practices aircraft leasing companies must follow regarding passenger checks, a European Union official told DL News. Aviation Security matters for EU-registered companies are handled by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport.
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Do Kwon’s private jet gambit is just the latest twist in the wake of Kwon’s arrest on Thursday. As DL News reported Monday, Kwon was able to register a new company called Codokoj22 d.o.o. Beograd in Serbia three weeks after Interpol issued a red notice for his detainment in September. He even put his own name down as the company’s director.
Funding has apparently not been a problem either. Kwon and Terra transferred 100,000 Bitcoin from Terra and the Luna Foundation, which supported the blockchain network’s tokens, to a cold wallet sometime last year, according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
$100 million account
After transferring the BTC to a Swiss financial institution, Kwon has drawn more than $100 million from the account, the SEC said in a 55-page complaint filed against Kwon and Terraform Labs, Terra’s parent company, in February.
It’s too soon to know if Montenegrin authorities will move ahead and charge Kwon and Han for attempting to travel on forged passports.
If they are not charged, the two men will be referred to the higher court for potential extradition, officials say. They are wanted on fraud charges in South Korea. Last week, a US federal grand jury indicted the men on eight counts of fraud, as well.